Tuesday 24 December 2013

Polish honey cake

Last week, I flew halfway around the world to make a cake with my friend Linus. Linus is four and the son of my extremely talented and very dear friend Dorka, who I was at film school with in Brisbane what seems both a long time ago and just yesterday. She and Linus and his dad Kevin now live in New Orleans, which is a long way from Sydney, which means I can't see them as much as I'd like to. This is the case with so many of my good friends who are scattered all over. Many of them have kids now and it's hard not to be more a part of their lives, to be there for things like birthdays and growth spurts and school concerts. So when I do get to hang out with them, I like to bake. It gives us something to do together, a way to get to know each other, and something for us both to remember. I know every time I make this cake, I'll think of Linus, and hopefully when he (and his mum or dad) make it again, he'll think of me. 

Linus is American, of Hungarian-Chinese heritage. I'm Australian, of Scottish-Irish stock. We came together in New Orleans, a Southern US city with distinctly French Creole influences. So naturally, we made a Polish cake. It's a melting pot this city, what can I tell you? Only about streets lined with grand timber houses and long-limbed, leafy trees, thunderstorms that go on all day (and all night), catfish po'boys in bars in back streets, slow-moving streetcars, the bottom of a bag of beignets filled with (I swear) about a pound of powdered sugar, fork lightening on the Mississippi, and, of course, jazz - on street corners, in bars, in the very rhythms of this place... 

But back to Linus' cake. That's what I'm going to call it anyway. Just like its namesake, it's a keeper. Lightly sweetened with honey (and very little additional sugar), its flavour is rich and deep, its top crunchy with almonds and its exterior deliciously sticky. If you can't make it with a friend, at least share it with some... or be warned: you may eat the whole thing yourself.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Chocolate sablés

Last weekend was kind of busy. I had an apartment to clean, a bag to pack, a scene breakdown to write and Christmas cookies to bake for my neighbours. Fortunately, the latter, at least, was no big deal. I'd made the dough weeks ago, rolled them into logs and stashed them in the freezer so all I had to do on the day was slice and bake. Which meant I had just enough time to test for quality control with a cup of tea (and take a photo). Intensely chocolatey from the double hit of Dutch cocoa and 70% chocolate, these are appropriately luxurious for the season of excess. Though I didn't have enough time to try it out, I reckon they'd be brilliant baked a little larger as the "bread" in an ice-cream sandwich with some softened, good-quality vanilla ice-cream. Another weekend. When I return to summer. And Sydney. See you soon.

Wednesday 11 December 2013


In Australia, the closest we get to anything white at this time of year is pavlova, a show-stopper dessert made with egg whites and sugar, served cold in place of pudding on Christmas Day. Topped with cream and summer fruit it's perfect for our stinking hot late December weather and curious custom of eating smack bang in the middle (ie: the hottest part) of the day. Meringues are like pavlova's little sister(s). Sweet, snowy and swirly with the same crunchy exterior and pillowy, marshmallow-like interior, they're great anytime, anywhere and for almost anyone - an easy solution to dinner party dessert dilemmas if you have gluten or dairy-intolerant guests.

Meringues are good all by themselves of course, but better still topped with complementary tastes and textures: soft cream, tangy yoghurt, fresh fruit, crunchy nuts...  really, you can dress them up any way you like. My favourite is with a dollop of cream, some lemon or lime curd and a sprinkling of chopped pistachios. 

Happy Christmas. Happy holidays. Happy summer. Winter. Wednesday. Whenever. Just happy.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Wholemeal pikelets with salted maple butter

When I was a student, I had a part-time job one afternoon a week looking after three brothers ranging in age from 4-10. It involved picking them up from three different schools, driving them back home, and most importantly of all, making them afternoon tea. No matter how much they argued in the car (ranging from quite a bit to a lot), on their choice of after-school snack there was always total agreement: pikelets. Light, fluffy and happily eaten or cold, pikelets are a particularly Australian childhood treat. They're an excellent vehicle for jam and cream or butter and honey, and have a miraculous silencing effect on hungry children who stop shouting/fighting/breaking things long enough to focus all their attention on eating as many as possible. The ones I used to make for the boys I looked after were the traditional kind - white flour, sugar, egg and milk soured with a bit of vinegar or lemon juice. These, from a recipe by Bill Granger, are a healthier twist on the original and ressemble more pancakes than pikelets. And so perfect for breakfast. Especially with homemade salted maple butter. 

Who knew making butter was so easy? Not me, til I happened across this recipe and was inspired to throw some leftover cream, a dash of maple syrup and a pinch of salt in my Kitchen Aid mixer. Ten minutes later I had glossy, rich home (if not exactly hand) churned butter. 

My former charges are grown up now. A few years ago we caught up and I made them pikelets. Some things never get old.